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New TPG Contributor Katie Genter recently flew from Rome (FCO) on British Airways’ 787 from London Heathrow (LHR) to Austin (AUS), one of the smallest US airports to provide nonstop service to/from Europe. Following is an account of her experiences. (All photos by the author.)
When I needed to attend a recent conference in Hamburg, Germany (HAM), I started looking into economy-class round-trips from my home airport in Austin (AUS) that would allow me to either use or earn Oneworld miles, as I have American AAdvantage Platinum status. Round-trips from AUS-HAM on British Airways’ version of economy, World Traveller, were pricing in the $1,300s, but by flying to Hamburg (HAM) and out of Rome (FCO), connecting each way at London-Heathrow (LHR), I was able to book my trip for $997 and use my Citi ThankYou Premier card to earn 3x on airfare.
Had I been redeeming miles, my AUS-LHR-HAM/FCO-LHR-AUS itinerary would have required 30,000 AAdvantage miles each way (or 20,000 miles during a non-peak period). However, since this itinerary was all with British Airways, the taxes and fees would have cost almost $700! Hence, it would have been much better for me, as a Citi Premier cardholder, to redeem 62,319 ThankYou points (for the $997 cost), which TPG values at 1.6 cents apiece.
Credited to American AAdvantage, my whole itinerary earned me 11,220 elite-qualifying miles and 5,611 elite-qualifying points as an AAdvantage Platinum — including the 500-mile minimum from my LHR-HAM leg — whereas a non-AA-elite would have earned 11,192 EQMs and 5,596 EQPs. With the 100% bonus redeemable miles (RDMs) for Platinum members and 1,000 RDM bonus for transatlantic flights each way in economy, I earned 24,456 RDMs for this itinerary.
Check-In at Rome Fiumicino Airport (FCO)
I started my travel day at Rome’s Termini train station, hopping on the 5:35am direct Leonardo Airport Express train to Rome Fiumicino Airport (FCO). The train was punctual, relatively inexpensive at 14 euros ($16) and had plentiful luggage racks and power plugs.
Once at FCO, I had a seamless check-in experience and an especially quick trip through the bag-drop line, which was moving even faster than the Executive Club line. Though I was flying economy on this trip, my AAdvantage Platinum status gives me lounge access. However, when I inquired about the British Airways lounge, I was curtly told that it wasn’t available due to a recent fire at FCO.
The rest of my time at FCO and my short British Airways flight to London-Heathrow (LHR) were both pleasantly uneventful.
Connecting at London-Heathrow (LHR)
Once at Heathrow, I connected in Terminal 5 for my LHR-AUS leg home. Though my checked bag had been given a “Short Connection” tag at FCO, I wasn’t given a tight-connection Fast Pass that would allow me to bypass many of the connection and security queues. Within 45 minutes of deplaning, I had followed the plentiful, easy-to-follow signs for International Connections in Terminal 5 and completed the necessary passport and security checks.
If you have a long connection in Terminal 5 and don’t have lounge access, head to the quiet area next to gate A10. Because it looks over the runway and is outfitted with reclining seats, it’s a great place to read, take a nap or do some plane-watching.
Gate A10 has multiple sub-gates, as this is where connecting passengers catch buses to their planes. Boarding these buses went according to elite status, starting with Club World and Oneworld Emerald before proceeding to Oneworld Sapphire.
Because I boarded near the beginning of the Oneworld Sapphire group, I actually rode on the bus with the Club World and other Oneworld customers. Despite passengers on the bus being high-fare and elite customers, we were still packed in like cattle.
Cabin and Seat
The British Airways 787 World Traveller economy cabin has 154 seats configured in a 3-3-3 layout (with the exception of two pairs of seats at the rear of the plane), and each seat has 31 inches of pitch and 17.5 inches of width. My seat for this flight was 24K, a right-side window seat located over the wing.
The World Traveller seating onboard BA’s 787-8 is somewhat tight. The seat features height-adjustable headrests with wings to support your head if you wish to sleep, and the armrests only raise partially, which could be uncomfortable for couples traveling together. I found it possible to type on my 14-inch laptop while both I and the person in front of me had our seats reclined, but I found it impossible to type while my forward neighbor’s seat was reclined and mine was upright. When my middle-seat neighbor’s arm was extended over the armrest, I couldn’t manage to type comfortably without my arm repeatedly hitting his arm.
Entertainment boxes impede the foot and under-seat luggage area of all of the window seats, making it impossible to store a full-size daypack or large purse without impeding your own foot space, as well as the storage and foot space of the middle seat. If you put a high value on your foot space and storage, consider booking one of the bulkhead seats, aisle seats in C or H or a middle seat in E.
Because this was a daytime flight, I was allowed to keep my large window-shade up for the first-half of the flight. I was surprised when halfway through the flight, my window was automatically set to be darkly tinted — and locked to that setting. Strangely, it seemed the flight attendants were suddenly trying to create an artificial night when it wasn’t yet evening yet in London and already light in Austin.
The World Traveller Economy lavatories on the British Airways 787 are modern with motion-activated toilets and sinks, as well as diaper-changing tables. There are three lavs in the middle of the World Traveller Economy section and only one at the rear of the plane, but all remained relatively clean throughout my flight.
Amenities and In-Flight Entertainment
Upon arriving at my seat, I was greeted by a pile of amenities. In addition to a pillow and a well-worn and plastic-wrapped blanket, there was also a set of headphones, a toothbrush and toothpaste. Unlike some of my previous British Airways 787 flights, the headphones were actually comfortable to wear and provided me with quality sound on the flight.
World Traveller seats have 8.9-inch seatback touchscreens, and BA’s in-flight entertainment system has an extensive array of movies, TV, audio books, music and games. While reading a book or working on my laptop (note that there’s no Wi-Fi on this flight), I enjoyed listening to music while having the interactive map displayed on the screen.
Fifty minutes before landing, the purser announced that the cabin would be shutting down for landing in 20 minutes. This provided adequate time for people use the bathroom and organize their carry-ons before landing. The in-flight entertainment remained active throughout taxiing to the the gate at AUS, and headphones were never collected — you were just supposed to leave them on your seat before deplaning.
Food and Beverage
Shortly after take off, drinks and pretzels were served. Drink choices included sodas, juices, water, wines (red, rosé and white) and a selection of beers and liquors; I opted for water and the white wine on offer, a crisp, dry Sauvignon Blanc from Spanish Sol Casal. It was okay, but not good enough to make me want seconds.
Dinner was served about 90 minutes into the flight. Strangely, no additional drinks were served at this time. The dinner choices were chicken curry or pasta – I chose the chicken curry. The white-meat chicken wasn’t fatty or dry, but overall the dish was pretty bland. Both meal options came with a tasteless quinoa appetizer, cold bread and butter, crackers and cheese and a (thankfully) tasty, fluffy chocolate mousse cup. Tea and coffee weren’t served until 55 minutes after dinner was served.
The flight attendants seemed busy and frazzled at points. One poor gentleman had to wait at least three minutes in the galley before the flight attendants provided him with napkins to clean up a beverage he spilled on his pants. I was also disappointed they only walked through the cabin with orange juice and water once between meals. I felt that on a daytime flight approaching 10 hours, more than one trip through the cabin with drinks would be appropriate.
An hour-and-a-half before landing, I was served a box lunch along with a choice of beverage. The plaid-printed box contained a chicken and basil-pesto sandwich, a scone, jam and clotted cream, as well as condiments for coffee/tea. The sandwich was forgettable, but the scone was surprisingly delicious with perfect texture and moisture.
When I first flew this route on BA about a year ago, I had a row all to myself, but now the World Traveller cabin is consistently full — or close to it, as was the case on this particular flight. No surprise then that just last week, BA started employing the larger 777-200 on this route. However, in February 2016, the 777-200 is scheduled to be replaced by the new 787-9.
This particular flight taught me that the 31-inch seat pitch in British Airways World Traveller economy on the 787-8 doesn’t provide enough space to work comfortably on a 14-inch laptop. And sadly, although my AAdvantage Platinum status allows me to reserve a World Traveller+premium-economy seat (with additional seat pitch) for free when I book an economy seat on American-operated flights, it didn’t gain me access one of these seats on this British Airways-operated flight.
This being said, I do enjoy the large windows, soft lighting and lower-altitude pressurization design of the 787-8 Dreamliner. Therefore, if my goal on this flight had been to watch movies or sleep — or if I was traveling with a companion that I didn’t mind being in physical contact with the entire flight — I would likely choose British Airways World Traveller economy on this route again.